ALMATY/PRAGUE — Estonia has deported an Uzbek asylum seeker who swam across a river from Russia to reach the Baltic country, RFE/RL’s Uzbek and Kazakh services report.
Estonian police said Rakhim Sobirov was deported to Russia over the weekend because he entered Estonian territory from Russia illegally by swimming across the 300-meter-wide Narva River that marks the border between the two countries.
Marit Liik, a spokeswoman for Ida-Virumaa county police and border control service, said Sobirov did not have any identification documents with him, and for that reason he was returned to Russia, the country from which he illegally entered Estonia. She did not specify when.
Sobirov, 30, was among a group of Uzbek asylum seekers wanted by Tashkent on religious-extremism charges who were arrested in Kazakhstan last year. He traveled to Russia after his release from detention.
Sobirov’s wife, Kazakh national Moldir Moldakhanova, told RFE/RL on September 19 that he left all his identity documents at home, fearing that he might be extradited to Uzbekistan at the request of the Uzbek authorities if he had Uzbek identity papers with him.
Moldakhanova added that Sobirov’s current whereabouts are unknown. She said the last SMS message she received from Sobirov was on September 17. In that message, Sobirov informed his wife he had slashed his veins to protest his anticipated deportation to Russia.
Sobirov was one of 30 Uzbek asylum seekers arrested by Kazakh police in Almaty last year on Tashkent’s request.
He was later released from Kazakh custody because he and his wife had a 1-month-old son. The Kazakh authorities later stripped him of his refugee status, and he had to move to Russia to avoid possible extradition to Uzbekistan, Moldakhanova said.
The remaining 29 Uzbek asylum seekers were sent back to Uzbekistan in June. The Uzbek authorities requested their extradition on the grounds that they were “members of extremist religious extremist organizations.”
The Uzbek asylum seekers deny this.